The American Happy Hour. Sandwich boards appear on sidewalks in the afternoon, touting cheap drinks for a limited time—$2 shots. $4 long islands. Half price wine and beer.
It can often become a race against time: how many drinks can you consume before time is up?! Take a cursory glance around almost any bar in the Short North, Polaris, Hilliard area and more, and you’ll spot coworkers who’ve snuck out for a “working meeting” keeping close tabs on their watches and phone, calculating when they can order that final drink before it’s back to reality. It’s not really about mere relaxation… there’s an undercurrent of urgency to pack as much into that three-hour timeframe as possible. While this is a familiar scene to most of us, there is an emerging trend that’s challenging the norm.
“I think Americans are finally coming around to the more European style of session drinking,” said Barbara Reynolds, owner of The Bottle Shop. “People are loving session IPAs, Berliners and Goses, and the Spritz trend follows that.”
The spritz, or more specifically, the Aperol Spritz, is a low ABV cocktail created and beloved by Italians, especially during the warm summer months. Completely the opposite of our typical American happy hours, Italians would rather slow down and enjoy multiple low alcohol beverages than try to pound as many cheap drinks as possible. It’s about sipping and savoring while enjoying conversation and the sunshine. La dolce vita.
To be clear, the Spritz should not be confused with the popular American “spritzer” of the ’80s and ’90s… which used to mean adding seltzer water or soda, to wine, in order to lower the caloric load. Thankfully, those days are behind us. Instead, a classic spritz typically features Aperol, an Italian aperitif known for it’s bitter orange flavor.
“Aperol is like Campari’s nicer cousin—a lot of the same flavors, but not quite as bitter and with a little bit more sweetness,” said Jillian Smith, manager and bartender at Mouton in the Short North. “It’s a nice way to turn people onto some of those bitter aperitifs since it’s a little more approachable.” Combined with prosecco and a splash of club soda, it’s bright, refreshing and perfect for day drinking.
The spritz also offers an opportunity to those summer patio prosecco devotees who are ready to step out of their comfort zone. Smith often fields requests from these guests for a “bartender’s whim” and finds that offering a riff on a spritz is just what they’re looking for. This often leads to a discussion around the guest’s typical favorite drinks or flavors—so, in this instance you’d be smart to lean on descriptions like “citrus,” “boozy,” “sweet,” or “herbal,” to lead the bartender in the right direction.
Because the building blocks of the spritz use an amaro (bitter aperitif) and a sparkling wine, it offers up unlimited possibilities to those with imagination. The essentials are simple: it’s bitter and fizzy. Use that as the framework, and you’re off and running. At The Bottle Shop, Reynolds might even swap out the sparkling wine for a float of beer, as a unique twist.
And the best part? You can imbibe like an Italian at any bar that stocks Aperol and sparkling wine—even if the bartender isn’t familiar with the drink.
Why? Because the recipe is on the freaking bottle! Smith confided that having the recipe on the back of the bottle alleviates any fears of appearing pretentious.
“If the bar has sparkling wine, they can make you an Aperol spritz”, she said with a laugh.